FORT WORTH, Texas (BP)–The process of negotiating for peace throughout the ages generally has involved an army of superior strength demanding surrender, and a humbled foe acquiescing to it. Rarely have states or tribes bludgeoned each other so badly that both sides have agreed to seek peace for the sake of peace.
In other words, warring parties have sought advantage over each other — through espionage, covert war, superior battlefield strategy and, today, precision air strikes. Those at war likely will always continue to scratch, claw, bite, undermine and gig their opponents until they realize their objectives, whether they are just or not. Neither side will sue for peace until there is no one left to fight for the cause, or until those killing simply tire of killing.
This has always been the nature of warfare, and it is the reality of negotiating for peace in the Middle East. Both the Palestinians and the Israelis have plenty of assets and multitudes of people to fight for their causes. Above all, no one has tired of killing.
The Israelis kill because they must, to defend themselves and survive. Palestinian terrorists do it because they want to kill Jews, reclaim Jerusalem and play the victim to garner the sympathy of their stronger Arab and Persian neighbors in the region.
President Bush has just concluded a weeklong visit to the Middle East that in many respects seemed tilted in favor of the Palestinians. He scheduled no meeting with the Israel hawks in the Likud Party and their leader, Benjamin Netanyahu, who wants the Palestinians to meet clearly defined security goals as a precondition to negotiation.
A last-minute meeting between Bush and “Bibi” was reported to have taken place, but Bush threw the Palestinians an even bigger political bone when he, like former President Jimmy Carter, referred to the Israeli “occupation” of the West Bank — a loaded term leaders like Netanyahu reject. Bush spoke of basic services the Palestinians were being denied, of the plight of Palestinian economics and so forth. Such Palestinian “issues” received much coverage in the press.
Bush, motivated by both altruism and the notion of legacy, did call for the Palestinians and Israelis both to consider “painful concessions” in order to come to terms and move further down the road to peace. He said Palestinians must agree to leave Israel alone with secure borders while the Israelis must “ensure that the Palestinian state is viable, contiguous, sovereign and independent.”
Bush also told the Palestinians they deserved more than a “Swiss cheese” state. Translating from “Bushese,” that means the president wants to see two states side by side, a goal he outlined in the first year of his second term.
This goal, however, ignores the rather significant fly in the ointment. Peace between Israel and her neighbors does not hinge on the West Bank where a Palestinian state might someday be a political reality, but on Gaza. And there will be no union of Gaza and the West Bank, according to Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, who said in Russia this week, “When speaking of a Palestinian state, we are talking about two parts.”
Gaza is a sewer of militancy where the people elected Hamas terrorists through democratic elections. The people there then expected the United States and other western democracies to recognize the legitimacy of the government — that same government that executed employees of the Palestinian Authority in the streets of Gaza last year. If Hamas is willing to kill a rival faction in the Palestinian Authority, how can they be at peace with anyone, let alone Israel?
Further evidence that Hamas wants to be a bulwark against peace came to light even while Bush was talking with other parties in the Middle East. No sooner had he departed Israel than Hamas terrorists began firing rockets from Gaza into southern Israel. Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh said Bush only offered “more illusions and slogans,” so the war must go on.
“This [visit] is sowing the seeds of sedition and is an attempt to create the atmosphere for internal Palestinian wars,” Haniyeh said of Bush, as if internal division didn’t exist among the Palestinians before Bush.
On Jan. 15, Israeli forces, prompted by the Hamas attacks, launched a new offensive into Gaza, killing 17 terrorists (among them the son of a Hamas leader). Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said Israeli Defense Forces would plunge deeper into Gaza to stop the sniper fire and shelling from the area. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas subsequently threatened to resign and was said to be considering disbanding his negotiating team indefinitely.
So while Bush was in the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Egypt working up a new plan for a Cold War against Iran and promoting his two-state solution, the work of the previous days was coming to nothing. Hamas was striking Israel, Israel was striking back and, in Lebanon, American diplomats were being targeted by a car bomb because the United States was said to be the puppet master of Israel.
Hezbollah cleric Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, who was likely responsible for the attack on U.S. Embassy employees in Lebanon, continued his daily taunts of Israel and the United States. He said peace negotiations with Israel and the Palestinians would fail. He will see to that because, for him, it is an “honor” to be an enemy of the United States.
This brings us back to the nature of war: Both sides seek advantage. Palestinian terrorists seek the advantage of instability. As long as the region is unstable, funds and weapons from sympathetic Sunnis will poor into Gaza. As long as Nasrallah and Hezbollah rattle their sabers, Syria and Shiite Iran will provide training and troops to fight a proxy war against Israel.
For Israel, a divided Palestine is a weak Palestine. As long as Israelis are in the West Bank, there is little possibility that Arab forces could cut Israel in two at its most narrow point and drive to Tel Aviv, the political capital, or Jerusalem, the spiritual capital. This, and the support the United States provides against terrorism, is Israel’s advantage.
So the bludgeoning will continue in spite of the Bush’s efforts at peace. If, by some miracle of negotiation, the Palestinian Authority and Israelis eventually come to the table and sign an agreement, it will not be true peace, but stalemate. And that kind of existence, teetering on the edge of war, will not last long because so many actors (Hamas, Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad, Al Qaeda, the Al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigade, Syria and Iran) can so easily force Israel into defending herself. This is the political reality of a Jewish state sandwiched between jihadists.
Let us be remember the words of the prophet Amos that two cannot walk together unless they are agreed. This is true with doctrine, it is true in politics and it is true in the process of peace. There will be no walking together in the Middle East until the Lord declares a truce between the unruly children of Abraham.
Even so, Lord, come quickly.
Gregory Tomlin is a national correspondent for Baptist Press. He holds a Ph.D. in the history of Christianity and has studied at Boston University’s Institute on Culture, Religion and World Affairs. He is an adjunct professor for Liberty Theological Seminary.